Borodin Symphony No 2 in B Minor

On Saturday 20 May, Tonbridge Philharmonic Society under their conductor, Matthew Willis, gave what he called “a challenging” concert, and they certainly rose to the occasion with a spirited performance.  The programme was full of interesting contrasts, starting with three sections from the much loved  Vlast by Smetana. This was followed by the Tonbridge première of a Symphony in (Approximately) 15 minutes by Richard Norris, who’s work has been broadcast by the BBC and is currently composer-in-residence for the Keele Bach Choir.  The evening finished with Symphony No. 2 in B Minor by Borodin.

Vltava is the second of the six tone poems that make up  Vlast  (My Country). Probably the best-known of the six, it was the first to be played.  It is a very descriptive piece picturing the course of the eponymous Bohemian river, and the orchestra set the scene with gentle pizzicato on the strings and a evocative woodwind accompaniment.  The music seemed to flow continuously as the river passes through the landscape, before changing to a charming dance-like rhythm where a wedding is being celebrated and then to a mermaids moonlit dance, all beautifully captured by the orchestra.  The piece ends with a flourish dominated by woodwind, brass and percussion as the river widens and vanishes into the distance.

The third section, Šárka, required a complete change of mood and seemed threatening in contrast to what went before.  In the middle section there was a lovely solo duet between clarinet and cello, followed by lyrical love music as the Prince is seduced and drugged.  A horn summons Šárka’s sisters to murder their insensible enemy and the whole ends in a frenzy of sound.  The orchestra really demonstrated their versatility.


The final poem, Blanik, describes a mountain and the Knights that dwell therein, and had a nationalistic theme with a rousing finale that ended on a hammering crescendo of bassoons and brass.

Richard Norris’s Symphony could not have made a greater contrast. Matthew explained to the audience that this piece had no correct interpretation, but it was up to the listener to use their imagination.  It was a most interesting piece and the audience followed the conductors instructions. For my own part I felt it rather primitive in character, picturing Creation, the planets, the passing of time and the elements, rain, storm and sunshine breaking through.  The orchestra entered into the spirit of this challenging piece very successfully, and the audience members around me were quite clearly enjoying their own interpretations.

The Borodin Symphony No. 2 in B minor is in four movements.  The first starts with very typical dark music in a minor key, depicting Russian knights and using motifs based on folk songs. The lighter middle section of this movement, “The Nightingale”, ends on a triple forte repeat of the opening.  The second movement presented the orchestra with a challenge, with its odd time signature of 1/1 and a syncopated rhythm with alternating 4 and 5 bar phrases, but to their credit they carried this off.  The third movement was gentle and evocative, with a lovely harp solo portraying a minstrel on his zither. This movement carries straight on into the Finale which had a really festive air enhanced by the percussion and ending with a rousing finish to a most enjoyable evening.


Sarah Gough